Paddock Wood residents in council tax protest over travellers
PEOPLE living on the outskirts of Paddock Wood are refusing to pay their council tax in a protest over illegal travellers' sites.
At least 20 households have signed a declaration to withhold payments, amid growing anger over what they see as the "unregulated incursion" of gypsies and travellers.
Communities in Fowle Hall, Queen Street and Willow Lane have accused Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone borough councils of "negligence", claiming the area is becoming overrun by unauthorised camps.
One of the campaigners, Dr Chris Hinde, said: "A backlash is coming from normally law-abiding residents."
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In a statement – titled Rural Community Fights Back Against Flouting Of Planning Regulations By Travellers – residents vowed to withhold council tax until "due attention" was given to the problem of travellers.
It states: "It is the view of the community that both sets of council officials and their elected representatives have been negligent in their duties and responsibilities."
Council tax for a band D property in Paddock Wood is currently £1,451 a year.
Not paying it can result in a prison sentence as well as a fine and order for back-payment.
The area affected straddles the border between Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone authorities. The protest follows moves by travellers to set up the latest in a series of unauthorised sites in and around Willow Lane.
A retrospective planning application for four mobile homes and four caravans at Lindfield Farm was submitted to Maidstone Borough Council earlier this month.
Dr Hinde warned it was the last straw for residents, whom he said were exasperated at a perceived lack of action to prevent more sites being built.
He said: "Why should we abide by planning regulations if the same rules are not applied uniformly? At the very least retrospective planning applications must be outlawed, and with immediate effect."
A decision last week by the Government to reject an appeal against a council enforcement notice which demanded the removal of all caravans, hardstanding and fences from a site called Green Acres, has been welcomed by residents as a step in the right direction.
The ruling means travellers on the site must leave within a year.
But Dr Hinde claimed the problem was that travellers were still moving in before applying for planning permission.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council refused to comment. Maidstone Borough Council said the action it had taken over the Lindfield Farm site, including using legal powers, proved it had not been negligent.